Free Form … the Abstract jazz of the JOE HARRIOTT Quintet
Joe Harriott (as) ‘Shake’ Keane (tp, flh) Pat Smythe (p) Coleridge Goode (b) Phil Seamen (drs)
Recorded in London, England; November 1960
Straight Lines (5:50)
Calypso Sketches (4:37)
In the constantly changing and shifting world of jazz, experimentation is a necessity, not a luxury. Not all attempted change takes root and becomes part of the living fabric of jazz, but without the bold adventures there would, in time, be very little besides stagnation.
One of the very latest and most daring experimenters is JOE HARRIOTT, an altoist born in the West Indies but musically a native of London. His first album to be released on Jazzland was “Southern Horizons” (JLP 37; Stereo 937S), which although the personnel was partly the same, gave no clue as to what he was rather abruptly to turn to during 1960 – the “Free Form” music featured on this album.
What exactly is “Free Form” jazz? Well, when such questions are to be asked, it is always helpful (though not always possible) to get your answers from the musician himself. Ask Harriott a direct question as to what it is he’s trying to do, and he’s likely to answer: “Go mad – in a quiet way.” But a little probing can get a more serious response than that out of the altoist.
“If there can be abstract painting,” he has said, “why not abstract music? There is a dividing line in my mind about what we are doing, but I think the best way of expressing this is to say that, while it has form, while the themes are structural, our approach to it is abstract. We make no use at all of bar lines, and there is no set harmony or series of chords, but there is an interplay of musical form and we do keep a steady four in the rhythm section.
“How are we able to do this without members of the front-line ‘clashing’ musically? By continuous rehearsal. The more we play together, the more we sense what the next man is up to; the better we know each other musically, the more we can anticipate what comes next. In one sense, of course, this means that the rhythm section overshadows the soloist: they have more of a fixed path. But there is a two-way traffic here. While a soloist is playing, the rhythm can suggest a new or different line of attack –and the soloist can leave the line he has been pursuing and adopt the new one. Or, conversely the soloist can musically direct the rhythm to take up a new line he is exploring. In this way, any member of the group is free or utilize ideas stemming from any other member. Having no set framework, he can switch his approach at any time. The most daring thing, I suppose, that we have done on this album, is the slowest. Here we did not even have a theme: each man played exactly what he felt, all through. This is the most ‘advanced’ thing; but the others could even be used commercially, in a way. Although, of course, we should lose a good part of the structure in any commercialization of the idea.
“In a nutshell, what we are trying to do is to create sounds, moods, effects, textures in music. Just that.”
Harriott colleagues in this “Free From” group include two fellow – West Indians: trumpeter Ellsworth Keane (known as “Shake”, which is short for “Shakespeare,” in reference to the fact that he is a student in English literature at London University); and bassist Coleridge Goode. Pat Smythe, on piano, is an ex-lawyer who finds that he can express himself far better in this jazz style than any other; Phil Seamen is known as Britain’s foremost big-band drummer.
This recording is also available in Monaural form on JLP 49
Produced by DENNIS PRESTON (Record supervision Limited)
Recording Engineer: ADRIAN KERRIDGE (Lonsdowne Studios)
Recorded in London, England; 1960
JAZZLAND RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
(Producers of Riverside Records)
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